Fluctuations in serotonin transport may explain winter blues

Dr. Jeffrey Meyer and colleagues at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have discovered greater levels of serotonin transporter in the brain in the winter rather than in the summer. This article published in E- Science News on September 8, 2008 gives a scientific explanation for why some healthy people experience low mood and energy in the winter months and why there can be the reoccurrence of depressive episodes in the fall and winter months and why some individuals amy be more vulnerable. Dr. Meyer indicates that the need is to understand what causes these changes and how to interfere with it. According to the world health organization, major depressive disorder is the fourth leading cause of death and disability. Dr. Meyer points out that, "the future for treatment should be to prevent the illness itself."

Editor's note by Dr. Brian MacDonald: For those of you who may not be aware, serotonin is a brain chemical involved in, among other things, regulation of mood. Many antidepressants, such as Prozac, act by increasing the amount of serotonin available in the brain; it is believed that this increase results in a reduction in depressive symptoms. Other researchers have also found that exposure to bright light can increase serotonin levels.

The study that Dr. Richard wrote about was the first to examine fluctuations in brain chemicals in living brains. The implication of this study is that seasonal fluctuations in serotonin transporters result in reductions in available serotonin in the winter months, making people more susceptible to depression. We'll address the issue in more detail in next week's Family Anatomy episode, "Anatomy of the Winter Blues."

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